POSTSCRIPT / November 16, 2003 / Sunday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Treasure awaits lucky Subic Bay contractor

COLLATERAL COSTS: As we crawl closer to the May 2004 elections, expect more violent marches disguised as People Power but actually organized to drive President Arroyo out of office before her term ends.

While the target is the President, collateral damage is usually inflicted on the innocent public and business establishments in the march or rally area.

Our colleague Ben S. Simpao, emailing from the US of A, suggests that applicants for rally permits be required to file a bond to cover direct damage to public and private property arising from the rally.

“If the rallyists run wild and break store windows or destroy public property like street lamps or burn police cars, the bond would pay for the damage,” Simpao says. “The bond is not forfeited if the rally is conducted peacefully.”

“For sure, there would be objections to this proposal as a curtailment of the right to public assembly and free speech,” he says. “But for all the freedom and rights we cry about, there are equivalent responsibilities.”

We agree.

Simpao says an alternative would be to confine rallies to a designated public area, some kind of Freedom Park, where anybody or any group can demonstrate all he/it wants without creating any public disturbance or causing damage to property or injury to persons.

We agree.

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SUBIC TREASURE: Listen to this. The Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority wants to (1) borrow $185 million from Japan to build a new container terminal in Cubi Point in Subic, and (2) then award its operations to a lucky private company for 25 years.

Tourism Secretary Richard Gordon, former SBMA chairman, is not only listening. He is bristling with objections.

“I’m only trying to protect the President from any issue of irregularity that may surround the project,” said Gordon, who is the Cabinet Officer for Regional Development (CORD) in Central Luzon.

Gordon, who is not exactly a friend of SBMA Chairman Felicito Payumo, said it would take 24 years before the proposed container terminal could reach its targeted annual cargo volume of 900,000 TEUs (total equivalent units). The present annual cargo volume in Subic is only 53,000 TEUs.

He said the Payumo proposal was “disadvantageous to the government” and put the government under “unnecessary risk.”

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GORDON ALTERNATIVE: As an alternative, Gordon is pushing for the full development of the Naval Supply Depot (NSD) compound and its environs, which he said the private sector could undertake at no expense to the government.

In 1996, bidders for the privatization of the NSD said the facility could handle up to one million TEUs of cargo volume annually, without having to dredge and reclaim Cubi Point as Payumo now proposes.

Gordon said his economic development plan for Central Luzon involves the optimum use of the transportation infrastructure of Subic, Clark and Manila. “Factory towns” would be logistically serviced by the ports of Subic, Clark and Manila.

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CRITICS DISAGREE: The Commission on Elections has said the Automated Counting Machines it is buying from the Mega Pacific consortium for the 2004 polls are “stand-alone” computers, meaning they are sealed from receiving data from outside.

The election modernization law requires the machines’ being stand-alone to prevent cheating and the tampering of election data.

Lawyer Alfredo Lazaro of Mega Pacific pointed to the ACM’s not having a keyboard as one proof of their being stand-alone. But many information technology experts disputed the claim of the Comelec and its supplier.

For instance, Gus Lagman, a recognized IT authority, said: “The keyboard does not define the standalone-ness of the machine. It can have a keyboard and still be considered stand-alone. It is stand-alone if it is not and cannot be connected to other machines, whether directly, via communication lines, or via the Internet.

“If it’s true that the counting machines have communication ports, then they are not stand-alone and tampering is a big possibility!”

Lagman added that the same port through which the machine connects to an outside party could also be used to send data to the machine. He said there is no such thing as a one-way communication port.

* * *

CONTRACT HIT: Lagman continued: “I have read and heard about rigged government biddings, but I was still appalled by the many serious flaws that we uncovered in the bidding process for this Comelec project. The only decent and moral thing to do at this point is to nullify the contract, return all payments made, and discontinue the project.”

“The bid specifications required the submission by the bidder of its financial statements for the past three years. Mega Pacific did not submit any. It could not have, because Mega Pacific eSolutions Inc. (MPEI) was only incorporated on Feb, 27, 2003. It also did not meet the accuracy level requirement in the bid specifications of 99.9995 percent.

“The so-called Mega Pacific consortium does not exist. What they have are subcontracting agreements between MPEI and the individual suppliers of the products and services needed. These subcontracting agreements do not make the suppliers (subcontractors) jointly liable for the project, as required in the bid. The rules and the law require a joint venture with solidary commitment.

“Even if the participating companies were bound by a consortium agreement, the lead bidder must still qualify. MPEI, the lead bidder, is not a qualified bidder, being less than three years old.”

* * *

LEAD BIDDER: Lagman said that the Comelec should have sought the advice of Ms. Carol Carreon, the over-all consultant of the poll body.

He said: “Ms. Carreon knows only too well that the lead bidder for government projects must be a qualified bidder. Why does she know this? When Bayantrade, where she was (is?) the CEO, wanted to bid for the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) IT project, she had to look for a qualified lead bidder.

“Bayantrade, despite being a joint venture among six of the largest conglomerates in the Philippines (the members are the Ayalas, PLDT group, Lopezes, Gokongweis, Aboitizes and the United Lab group), could not qualify as the lead bidder because it was only two years old at that time.”

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of November 16, 2003)

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